What is family joining?

Family unification – known colloquially as family joining – means granting refugee status (or asylum seeker status) to dependent family members of a recognised refugee or asylum seeker in South Africa. This is set out at Section 3(c) of the Refugees Act of South Africa. Dependents include spouses, unmarried children and destitute, aged or frail family members, where:

  1. ‘Spouse’ means any person who is party to a marriage or same sex union which is solemnised and registered in terms of either a civil or customary union.
  2. ‘Child [or children]’ means any person under the age of 18 years.

In 2019, the family joining processes in South Africa were confirmed in the Standard Operating Procedure: Refugee Family Unification document. This document was confirmed by the court, following negotiations between the Department of Home Affairs, the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and UCT Refugee Rights Unit. You can read the press release about this case here.

Family joining is very important because it ensures that refugee and asylum-seeking families are able to document themselves together as a family unit. This maintains a family unit – an important part of building stability and ensuring proper refugee protection in South Africa.